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WILKINSON COUTTS / MATTHEWS INTEGRITY HUB: an up-to-the-minute information mix designed to help you with your lifework and career development in the asset integrity, inspection and NDE industries.

Matthew Petroleum Notes

INTEGRITY JOB TECHNICAL INTERVIEWS
SOME FACTS

The technical interview is the core part of the recruitment process for job positions in the Asset Integrity Industry. It is concerned purely with the technical knowledge and abilities of the candidate rather than their admin or organisational skills, or how they will fit in to the employer’s operation. In this article we will stick rigidly to discussing this form of interview, to keep things simple.

Did you know?

Technical interviews, so what’s difficult?

From the employer’s viewpoint one of the difficulties in organising technical interviews is that they need to be able to apply them to a wide variety of roles across the technical scope of the integrity industry from NDT to inspections to FFP evaluation. That means lots of question subjects needing different people to ask them. This works the other way around from the candidates’ position, the difficulty is dealing with the vast number of different subjects on which you could potentially be questioned.

Asset Integrity is a wide technical field. It’s as wide as medicine, or law; the more detail you look for the more will present itself to you. On the face of it, the chance that the detailed knowledge bases of any interviewer and job candidate would coincide seems pretty small. Even a similar employment background dealing with similar equipment and problems will soon diverge once you got past the first level of technical detail.

 

So how can it work?

Fortunately, in practice, it works reasonably well, owing, bizarrely, to the lack of knowledge of both parties. This is shared fairly evenly between interviewer and interviewee but is better news for the candidate. With best of intentions, a person running a technical interview will generally not be trained in interview techniques.HR people might be (you would think) but they can only play at asking technical questions, and immediately run out of steam when it comes to assessing the answers. Technical interviewers generally have a technical background but that will always be a finite one, and unique in its detail to them only.

The result is that the technical subjects introduced at technical interviews are almost never as detailed and comprehensive as they should be. They may nominally address subjects that have relevance to the actual job role, but rarely dig deeply into the subject. Think for a moment and you can see why not; the first possibility is that the interviewer may not have sufficient detailed knowledge themselves and so wouldn’t want to divulge this. Even if they have a specific view on that technical topic, they are reasonably forced to accept that any candidate’s experience or view is unlikely to be exactly the same as theirs. Hence, if they pursued a specific line of questioning, they have to be reasonably prepared to let the candidate off the hook. So how exactly is this classed as a ‘success?’

Because we see what we want to see

Let’s take this a bit further. It’s often easier for the interviewer to let the candidate run the interview, expanding on the technical subjects they know best. As long as a candidate doesn’t deviate too far from the broad scope of the job role, or make too many technical howler statements then the interviewer feels no pressure to formulate difficult questions, so is happy. Meanwhile the candidate is more than happy to expound on the subjects they (no doubt) rehearsed before the interview, so they are happy as well. Everybody is happy, despite the fact that the interview was based on mainly ‘easy’ subjects.

Now the strange bit; it’s to do with the perception of what actually happened. Having taken part in this ritual of mutual forgiveness, both parties genuinely feel they have accomplished their goals. The interviewer firmly believes they questioned the candidate on tricky technical topics using finely-honed questions of direct relevance to the job. Our candidate also feels they did well, answering tough technical questions without contradiction. Strange, but that  seems to be how it works.

Technical interviews: Easy subjects

Identifying the ‘easy subjects’ for technical interview questions shouldn’t be difficult for either interviewer or candidate. They are generally centred on:

  • Recent happenings in the industry
  • Damage mechanisms causes of equipment failure; it’s surprising how wide this subject can be
  • Codes and standards knowledge, although not in any great depth. Knowing the document title often seems to be sufficient
  • Asking the candidate to a technical presentation on some technical subject.

Again, there’s nothing actually wrong with any of these, it’s just the shallowness of the way the subject is addressed that can produces the weakness in the approach. We will look at solving this in a moment.

What about a candidate’s willingness to be assessed?

Surprisingly, many candidates don’t like being assessed for technical knowledge at screening or face-to-face interviews…maybe they feel it questions their status. The older applicants in this group think they deserve to be employed because of what they have done in the past, rather than what they know now, so they see questions as an insult. Younger candidates may not even believe in technical knowledge as an asset to have to get a technical job; if a query arises they just do a web-search, thereby becoming an instant expert. They are strange mental constructs, both of these, but you can see them played out day-to-day in technical job interviews.

So, what’s the conclusion?

From an employer’s perspective, technical interviews for integrity industry positions work well, if you get them right. If they are left to drift into their comfort zone however they can become little more than a placebo to make you, the employer, feel like you’ve done something. The assessment is weak, and so may be the candidate that you appoint based on it.

Now let’s look at how to improve the situation;

SIMPLE GUIDANCE FOR RUNNING TECHNICAL INTERVIEWS (for both employers and candidates)

To stop a technical interview falling into its zone of ineffectiveness (its comfort zone) the questions asked should comprise four categories. You can think of them as the ‘quadrants’ of the interview. They are all part of the set, and so the interview will be incomplete unless they are all included. Here they are:

You can see how they manifest themselves in the sample questions provided in the NDT roles, In-service Inspection, Small plant inspection and Integrity Evaluation question sets on our Technical Interview Questions webpage.

Code knowledge questions

These are questions to test the candidate’s knowledge of published codes and standards documents. There are a large number relevant to the integrity industry from ASME, EN, API, NACE, AWS and, taken together, comprise the accumulated knowledge bank of the industry. They supersede individual experience owing to their multi-contributor content and so are dangerous to ignore. Candidates without knowledge of any of them have, for some reason, chosen not to be interested in this knowledge. The questions are there to find this out.

Technical breadth questions

It’s not that difficult, or rare, for someone to become very knowledgeable in a small specific technical area. What is rarer and desirable is a breadth of knowledge that can be applied in a wider, unexpected context, which is what will happen in reality. The good thing about this question group is that the question subjects can be sprung off a candidate’s demonstrated existing knowledge, thereby making it a fair assessment of what their technical adaptability actually is.

Processing power questions

Having reached the age of attending integrity industry interviews. candidates will either have this, or not. It’s the mental ability to process information, from multiple sources, into technical conclusions. Without conclusions, any engineering exercise just ends up as a game of discussion and debate; expensive, and with no output. A surprising number of people lack the ability to come up with answers and conclusions to technical situations, instead preferring someone else to make the decisions. It’s not difficult to ask interview questions designed to detect this. Don’t expect them to be particularly popular with candidates however, they can feel awkward as the questions get a bit too near the truth for some of them.

Technical curiosity questions

This is the lowest common denominator of all four of the quadrants. If a candidate has technical curiosity about the subject of asset integrity then they will find it fairly easy to widen their knowledge and experience. They will also adapt to new jobs, technical situations and problems of NDT, inspection and evaluation of corroded items without it being too much of a problem. It is technical curiosity that makes people look at new construction and post-construction codes, read failure cases and keep on top of evaluation methods as they evolve over time. Without it, they can think up more excuses for not learning new things than for doing so. Technical curiosity is one of the easiest things to test for during integrity job interviews; if a candidate has it, it will often shine through of its own accord fairly quickly. If it doesn’t, and doesn’t appear in response to a few well-placed questions, then it’s probably not there.

If you are an employer, it’s not that difficult to run a technical interview along the lines explained above. The structure doesn’t have to be perfect or particularly choreographed; you just need to make sure all the quadrants are covered. Used together they form one of the best methods of finding out what a candidate for a technical position in the integrity industry is all about. If you are a job candidate, and your interviewer doesn’t use this method, then try to drive it that way yourself. It will make the interview run better. Then let your interviewer take all the credit of course.

Want to see how this method works in practice? Questions related to these four quadrants of a technical interview can be seen in the multiple question sets on our Technical Interview questions webpage.

We offer a TRIAL TECHNICAL INTERVIEW

If you want to check your knowledge for a specific job role in the integrity industry then try our trial technical interview.  Its purpose is to test you on the technical aspects of the job you are thinking of applying for.  There's no time limit on it but expect it to last at least 20 minutes.  After the discussion we'll give you honest feedback on how you did.  Just let us know the type of position you are going for; we'll do the rest and respond with at time slot for you to call us.

There's no charge, but we will expect you to call us at the allocated time and be ready to answer technical questions.

Remember your trial interview is on a purely technical subjects.  We are not interested in you personality traits, do-gooding activities or any wonderful extra-curricular interests you may have.

Technical Interview

TRIAL TECHNICAL INTERVIEW

CONTACT US Tel: 07746 771592

help@matthewsintegrity.co.uk

Matthews Integrity Training